I've been wanting to post about something for a long time: children. Or rather, making new children. I haven't posted until now because my thoughts on the matter are unconventional, and I didn't want to hurt the feelings of my close (usually pregnant) friends. I had to wait until all the babies were born. I think I've found a special moment in my life (20 months later) where my facebook page is sans pregnant bellies. So this might be my only shot to say something that others may find horribly offensive (I'm sorry!) without insulting my loved ones too (I hope!).
Ok, here goes... I think making babies is selfish.
I know. You're thinking "Selfish!? That's the complete opposite of what it means to be a parent. Being a parent is the most self-less thing you could possibly do. It means always putting yourself last. It means making huge, painful, personal sacrifices for another person. It means loving someone else so completely, that your own needs don't matter. How on earth can you think parenthood is selfish?!"
Well, I don't. I don't think parenthood is selfish. I think making babies is selfish. And these are two very different things.
Before I continue, let me just say I love my friends' children. Turns out, awesome people raise awesome kids. I'm glad I will get to know these kids over time and watch them grow and be present in their lives. I'm happy they exist! Nothing I'm going to say is meant to be retroactive. I'm talking all about future choices, not past choice. I love the kids I've met: I love you Emily and Roy and Elenore and Maya and Dade and Jacob! I love the kids I haven't met yet. That's right, I'm facebook stalking you with love Dex and Katie Sue. If you are reading this, and you have children, I want the absolute best for them and for you. I mean it.
So let's continue.
There is a lot of need in the world. A lot. Every existing person has needs that must be met if they are to enjoy a happy life: food and water, education, healthcare, basic shelter, access to culture and community, meaningful work. Every time a new person is created, a little more need is added to our world of finite resources. With so many people already in need - little boys and girls without anyone to care for them - why do we feel entitled to create more need?
In the face of 13,000,000 children who have lost both their parents, and countless more who have been abandoned or sold, is it fair that our basic instinct to reproduce goes unquestioned and unchallenged?
I haven't come across a compelling moral argument for creating a new child instead of adopting an existing child.* The reasons I hear for creating a bio-baby (that's what I call a child who inherited 50% of your genes/your partner's genes through traditional methods, in-vitro, surrogacy, or another method) fall into two categories:
(1) Genes are important
(2) Adoption is hard
In category (1), I hear things like "I want my child to look like me", "My family will die out if I don't reproduce", and "I don't want to risk getting a child with physical or behavioral problems." On the surface, these sound sort of reasonable. Then I picture sitting down with a 4 year old girl who has no family, who desperately hopes to come home with me, and saying "I'm sorry sweetie, but you don't look like me so you have to stay here" or "you might be a real problem in school some day, and I just can't take that chance." I don't even know how you'd explain the importance of keeping your specific genetic line alive, but these are really selfish reasons to leave that little girl behind.
Category (2) I know very little about, but I know there are real, systemic problems that make adoption an emotional and financial burden, and sometimes impossible. I'm grateful that some college friends started a blog called Orphans and Widows to share their journey into the system. And I am so humbled by their compassionate, self-less reasons for working to adopt. Hopefully I'll know a lot more about adoption-process-problems, real or perceived, by following their progress.
But even if adoption is impossible, it comes back to the same thing: creating a new child creates new needs. Those needs take resources. Those resources could have been used to meet existing needs. If you can't adopt, then use the money you would have spent on a child to support organizations helping orphans or organizations working to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
I'm not suggesting the desire to have a child and build a biological family is bad or wrong. Rather, this desire should be considered and evaluated against the needs of the wider world. All our decisions should be made this way. What type of home you will have, the cost of living in the places you want to settle, the career path you choose all determine how much help you are able to offer to others, and what resources you will have to offer that help.
I've made the incredibly selfish choice to live in Los Angeles - a city with a terribly high cost of living that practically requires I drive a car daily. That choice means I have fewer resources to give to those in need, and my carbon footprint is higher than it need be.
We all make selfish choices, and even if we ultimately continue to make them, I think it is only fair we recognize them for what they are.
*That doesn't mean they don't exist - please share.